“Actually, we believe that Christianity started at the creation of the world.”
I was going back and forth with one of my friends who was giving his account of why he didn’t believe in any religion. He spoke generally about the age of religions. About how Islam was predated by Christianity which was predated by Hinduism which was predated by various forms of paganism.
This is where I felt that I needed to interrupt him. India is a context where there are many coexisting religions. So there is power in a narrative that not only lays out your beliefs, but the reasons for the beliefs of those who don’t believe like you. And for that, you don’t just need moral systems, you need a cosmology.
Cosmology is just the story of how the world came to be. This matters because it frames all of our other discussions. And because culture is so pervasive, even in our own thoughts, we can assume the secular story without even realizing it. To say that Christianity begins in Genesis 1 is to derail the secular cosmology. It is to respectfully say, “you believe certain things about the nature of the universe that I do not believe, and both of us cannot be correct.”
The secular cosmological narrative goes something like this. There was the Big Bang, which started the universe. As the gas and pieces of rock cooled, they formed into galaxies, solar systems, and planets. One of these planets happened to have the right conditions for life, so basic forms of life appeared. These basic forms of life evolved eventually into humans, beings who could guess at the meaning of life. In searching for meaning, they created religions which gradually changed into the types of religions that you see today.
So if you listen carefully, my friend actually has a story about how and when my beliefs started. And if that story is believed, my religion is necessarily false. Remember, his view says that the universe started without meaning and humans created religions. He cannot believe that and believe what I am saying at the same time. It just doesn’t work.
Now the tricky thing is that this story is not often argued, but assumed. Which is unfortunate because there are a number of really good questions that the Christian should be asking at this point. For example: If there was nothing before the Big Bang, how did anything come from nothing? Given this narrative, is there any basis for believing in morals or meaning? How did living organisms come from non-living organisms?
And as they wrestle with questions like this, it is also helpful to show that Christianity is not simply a set of moral rules, but an entire cosmology. The Christian narrative starts with God, who is eternal, creating the universe. God creates people in his image, with particular purpose, moral codes, and values. Which accounts not only for our normal intuitions, but also explains other religions. Romans 1 says that God gave created things to humanity to be good gifts, and we turned them into gods. Whether that worship looks like formally bowing down before Aphrodite or chasing a string of unhealthy relationships simply depends simply on the culture and the year.
So what we might not realize is that when we tell others the gospel, in their minds, Jesus is jammed into a preexisting secular framework. So what ends up happening is that we tell them the news that Jesus rose from the dead while they have an (often unexamined) assumption that miracles cannot happen. Well, that is an uphill battle.
So it may be more fruitful if we draw out their assumed cosmology, question it, and give them not just the gospel, but an entirely new lens through which to process the world.
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